The crowd at the Big Red Barn at Cornell is better than the usual college crowd. The room is nice and full, and people are dancing and generally into what is happening. My favorites are a guy and a girl in the front row. The girl is doing this sort of manic warp-speed shimmy no matter what rhythm the music accompanying it seems to suggest. It is particularly amusing to watch during Celestial Shore’s set, which has quintuplets and things. The guy is doing more of a thrashy nu-metal type dance that involves pitching his whole body forward and loudly thwacking the floor in front of him with his open palm whilst yelling. Scratch that, I don’t know what tradition to ascribe this dance to; I have never seen anything like it before. I don’t know if it’s the fact that it’s a Friday night, or that this is one of the rare college venues that sells beer, but the stars seem to have aligned. The whole experience is only slightly dampened by what I must say is the worst pizza I have ever encountered in my life. Nobody at the venue knows where it came from, but someone involved in the organization of the show ordered it. There is a policy at the college stating that all events serving alcohol must also serve food. This is a sensible policy, intended to position the school as offering something to coat the stomach for drinkers and offer a communal thing to consume for non-drinkers, but goddamn, with this pizza, I wonder if they aren’t secretly telling us to get blind fuck-all blotto until it tastes good. It is thick and doughy, with cheese that manages to be both greasy and rubbery, and dough that is nowhere near all the way cooked in the middle, and sauce about on par with the sauce that goes on Bagel Bites. It is rectangular, like a Sicilian pie. Anyone from Ithaca know what this pizza is? It is a bad scene. Out of curiosity I try to see how many times I can fully blot my slice before it stops weeping grease. The number is six. A delegation from Ava Luna goes into town to purchase salads for everybody. And also a box of wine for later, because a stitch in time saves nine.
Although a few people offer us places to crash, we have all decided to make it a hotel night. We all want to sleep in beds and have some quality time together, since it’s our last night on tour. We’ll be playing together the following night in Kingston, but Celestial Shore has to go home immediately after and we won’t get to hang. By the time we’re out, all the hotels in town are booked due to Freshman Parents’ Weekend and the Garlic Festival in nearby Saugerties. I eventually find a motel in nearby Cortland. Our drive is creepy and surreal. Ithaca is full of deer, just walking around like they own the place, and there is a thick fog that greatly inhibits visibility. In the morning Cortland will prove itself to be a totally normal and non-terrifying upstate town, but that night it looks an awful lot like we’re driving to our deaths. A single neon “MOTEL” sign burns off in the distance, the only visible source of light for miles. A very old Chinese guy checks me in, blinking sleep out of his eyes. I always feel bad checking into these mom and pop hotels so late, places where you ring a bell for service because no one’s at the desk. I know I’m always waking someone up, someone who’s been dozing fully-dressed right nearby awaiting the opportunity for business. Each room is $50 plus tax, a massive deal; cheaper than Motel 6, even. I wonder how much of that is profit for him. What’s the minimum amount of money you’d accept to be woken up in the middle of the night? I bet the cost of living in Cortland is low. Maybe it goes a long way. I hope.
The motel is the kind where all the rooms are on the ground floor and open out onto the parking lot. We get room 10, and I am confused by the “10-11” indicated on a door. Is this some sort of weird suite? Indeed it is. The door opens out onto a tiny room roughly the length and width of said door, with room 10 on the left and room 11 on the right. Amazingly, Celestial Shore has been given room 11. We now have this weird suite all to ourselves. I do the standard check for bedbugs, pulling up a corner of every layer of bedding down to the mattress, and find none. There is a slight aroma of cigarette smoke, but that is to be expected; smoking and non-smoking rooms at this level of the hotel industry are basically convenient fictions born of tradition. I’m convinced they just move the signs around every month for the hell of it. We load all our shit into the room and place an amp in front of the door to the outside, since it doesn’t lock. We can now leave the doors to both rooms open and move freely among them without putting on shoes. Excellent. We crack into the wine, which is truly vile. Say what you will about Franzia, every time I diverge from it at that price point I regret it. Anyway, it is a good time. We pass around the bag from the wine-box and shoot the shit. Everyone gets to sleep in beds. But not too late: we have to get up at a reasonable hour so we can attend the aforementioned Hudson Valley Garlic Festival in nearby Saugerties. Garlic has always been one of my favorite foods, and I am excited.
Saugerties is pretty small population-wise, and I imagine a large proportion of its GDP comes from the Garlic Festival. There are signs for miles around, and cops directing traffic. Tens of thousands of people come every year. We are a little miffed at the $10 admission fee, since the whole point of the event is that you go in and buy things, but we’re not about to miss it. I am not disappointed. I have never seen so much garlic and garlic-based food in one place. There are free samples everywhere. Of course, after trying a few different kinds of raw garlic, your palate is totally destroyed and they start to run together, but I do notice some differences in sweetness and spiciness and such. I didn’t even know there were different kinds of garlic. I think German White and Vietnamese Purple are my favorite. The best condiment on offer is garlic vinegar from Rolling Hills Farms, hands down. I restrain myself and only buy one bottle. I would just drink this stuff as a beverage if I weren’t worried about getting terrible indigestion. I do avail myself of several free samples. You could put this on any savory food just by itself and it would improve things greatly. Or perhaps a Bloody Mary? The wheels are turning, lubricated by the salubrious pungency of all that raw garlic.
But the real draw of the festival for me are the food vendors. The first thing I try is these garlic knots, which are advertised as having “the maximum amount of garlic allowable by law”. We’ll see about that.
They are indeed delicious, but I bet the law has a little more wiggle room regarding allowable quantities of garlic. They’re not kicking my ass. I want my ass kicked by garlic. Appetite whetted, I go off to the Elks Lodge booth for a garlic burger.
This burger does the job, but it doesn’t blow my mind. It’s a burger with garlic in it, out of a chafing dish rather than hot off the grill. I am still searching for my ideal garlic fix, the sort of thing I could only find here at the garlic festival. Fortunately, I don’t have to look too far to find this:
These are deep fried whole cloves, with a little horseradish for dipping. They are incredible, savory and a little sweet, with a velvety texture. The horseradish doesn’t adhere to them well because they’re so oily, but does add a nice kick. This is the sort of thing I had in mind, a decadent garlic-based treat, like roasted garlic but many times worse for you. Just in the nick of time I run into some of my bandmates, who help me finish it. I am not done eating; not by a long shot, even though under normal circumstances I would likely stop right around this point. I came here to eat garlic and stop just short of great gastrointestinal distress.
Next in line is these smoky babyback ribs in a garlic-based marinade. They are perfect; tender and complex. There are a lot of interesting-looking barbecue stands, and I pick the one that offers a small snack-size portion. I am sorely tempted by a garlic turkey leg, but that would be entirely too much food, even for me. Becca has procured some of these, which she passes around for everyone to try:
These are blackened green beans with a remoulade. Fresh, legit spicy, and still a bit crunchy. Wonderful. I am now beyond sated, too much even to try the perversely appealing garlic ice cream and gelato offered at another stand. It is time to wander. I try some more samples of raw garlic, and have a raw garlic shooter. I can feel the well-being pulsing through my veins. I take in some pretty cheesy folk music from various local performers. I talk to some farmers about the relative merits of various garlic strains, and purchase some French varietal I forget the name of for the house. It is all I can do to not bring home like ten pounds of garlic. I leave with a modest brown paper bag of garlic products, and grab an apple cider donut and some fresh cider for the road. It’s right next to an amazing-looking lobster roll, but I just can’t. I have fully pigged out. Garlic is me, and I am garlic. Garlic.
We still have some time before the show in Kingston, which will be starting on the late side, so we make a stop at Lukanoos for some recreation. Celestial Shore meets us, having foregone the festival in favor of sleep and a proper meal elsewhere. I get behind the wheel of a go-kart for I think the first time ever. It is exhilarating, both for the sensation of speed and the constant fear that my vehicle, seemingly held together with electrical tape and prayer, will fully disassemble on each hard turn. I go around a second time. I take a round in the batting cages, for definitely the first time since before I hit puberty, and bat in the low .100s. I drink copious amounts of seltzer from the soda fountain. The proprietor assures me she cannot smell the garlic on me from across the counter, but I know it’s only a matter of time before it oozes from my pores to make itself known. It is fortunate that we went to this festival at the end rather than the beginning of our long journey. Time to go to Kingston.
We have a lot of time to kill, because we’re playing the late show of the evening. The early show is a showcase for the Rock Academy, which features a lot of teens and preteens playing classic punk songs. I take it in for a little while, and it makes me nostalgic for the end-of-session concerts at now-defunct National Guitar Workshop. Some of these kids are really good, and they are having a blast playing for their friends in a real live club. But it is overstimulating, and I am beat. Even the company of people my own age is starting to feel like a little much. A few of my tourmates are getting tattoos next door, and I head over to the tattoo shop to hang. I still don’t have any tattoos. I’ve never been able to think of one I just knew I’d want to have on my body forever. I’m not ruling it out, but if and when the time comes, I’ll know. The tattoo shop has comfortable leather furniture, and a place to charge my phone. I fall asleep sitting up in a chair.
Our show is at BSP Lounge, where we’ve been a few times before. The promoter is a nice Brooklyn expat, and he always takes good care of us. There is pizza and high life in the spacious green room, as well as a banjo and piano to mess around with. We’re sharing a bill with Star Rover, one of my favorite Brooklyn bands. Sam points out that they are sort of what Bill Frisell might be like if he weren’t afraid to use really nasty fuzz. They’re rootsy and jazzy and garagey, and both guys (drums and guitar, both sing) are at the absolute top of their games. I harbor the secret hope that they’ll need a bass player some day, but honestly, putting anyone else on that stage would probably just detract from the whole experience. They are so locked in. It’s a great pleasure to watch. They close with an impeccable arrangement of Leadbelly’s “I’m On My Last Go Round”. Beautiful. I don’t even want to play after that, I just want to go to sleep. But Celestial Shore plays, and we play, and then that’s it; our tour together is over. They leave, everyone hugs, and we set off in search of a hotel. We have one last show the next day, in Staten Island, and it’s worth the price of a hotel to not deal with dropping off our gear and having everyone make the intense psychological transition back to their own beds only to go play again in the morning.
The show in Staten Island is at the new Freshkills Park. Fresh Kills used to be a landfill, and its transition to a park has been one of the biggest in history. Our show is part of the Sneak Peak festival to celebrate the park’s completion. I grab some delicious pulled pork mac and cheese from a food truck and wander around a bit. There are kayak rides, and some art, and a petting zoo with an adorable miniature pony who looks truly miserable from the heat. Bueno is playing, recently back from tour themselves, and they invite us to grab some beers from their trunk. Nothing like a crisp domestic brew in the hot sun. They play an awesome set, as always, swaggering improvised post-punk greatness. I can’t tell you how our set is. It’s a blur. I am hot and dehydrated and several days behind on sleep and I have to go to work in the morning. The full crankiness of how I expect to feel in the morning is hitting me already. Afterwards, Bueno is hanging out in Staten Island, getting pizza and going to one of their houses for a party. I’m a little tempted; they are great to hang with, and they’re all from Staten Island and definitely know where the dankest pizza can be found. But the prospect of more pizza and more beer right now is just unthinkable to my tour-worn body. I am firmly allied with Team Go Home.
After fighting our way through some awful traffic on 278, we make it to the studio. We unload our gear and head off towards our respective beds. I’ll be seeing everyone again on Friday for our show with the newly-renamed Mr. Twin Sister at Baby’s All Right, but it’s still a little bittersweet to be parting ways. Like obviously it gets infuriating and frustrating and smelly being in such close quarters with other people all the time, angling for a spot on a rug instead of a bare floor, getting pissy at one another over time spent in the shower, constantly juggling everyone’s needs and wants in an attempt to get to every show and also have the best time in each place, twin goals which are sometimes irreconcilable. Your back hurts from carrying heavy equipment several times a day. Your routine is destroyed, and you get about sixty or seventy percent of the amount of sleep you’re supposed to if you’re lucky. You probably eat and drink more than you’re accustomed to, and your body shows it and feels it. It’s not all sunshine and roses, for sure. But there’s also something warm and comfortable about being on tour that doesn’t exist anywhere else. You share a purpose. You develop a private language, like twins. Someone pointed out once that we have all spent more time with each other than anyone else. Even our best friends, even people we’ve dated for years. I’m more than ready to be home, but I know in a weird way I’ll miss it. I’m deeply grateful to have met these people, and to take these occasional jaunts into a completely non-normal existence with. The fact that we can drive somewhere we’ve never been before and play our weird fucked up music and any number of people greater than zero will be into it continues to amaze and delight me, even after a few years. Someday I will become too beholden to other responsibilities, or reliant on creature comforts of home, or simply too old and physically infirm to do this anymore, but not yet.
Home, I put fresh sheets on the bed and sit on the balcony with Buzz for a while. Buzz is my roommate’s black lab mix, and she seems to have missed me quite a bit. I don’t even have the energy to shower, even though that first shower at home is what completes the transition for me. I nap for a little while with the lights on, and wake up ravenous. My body craves protein and vegetables after weeks of pizza and bar food. I order a giant platter of sushi and some edamame, and tear into it with gusto. I put some Son of Salami on the stereo. My roommate comes home, and we shoot the shit for a while. I take a shower and call it a night around ten. How wonderful to have a queen-size bed all to myself. I have weird dreams, and wake up dazed to go to work. I am back in the straight world, till next time.